We can now officially confirm that Elena Rybakina has entered “The Zone.”
The 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan is perfect in the month of March, winning all six matches at the BNP Paribas Open and adding two more at the Miami Open. Overall, she’s won 10 consecutive times.
The No.10 seed is into Monday’s fourth round and a match against Elise Mertens with a still-viable chance to clinch the rare Sunshine Double.
Miami Open: Scores | Order of play | Draws
And Rybakina’s doing it without her best stuff -- a measure of how far her game has come in the past year. The Wimbledon champion and Australian Open finalist struggled at times against Anna Kalinskaya and Paula Badosa but found a way to win in three sets.
On Saturday night, Rybakina looked lethargic in dropping the first set to Badosa. Historically, this had been a deal-breaker for Rybakina. She had lost 13 consecutive WTA 1000 matches when falling a set down. Three years after that streak began, it was over. Rybakina rallied to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.
“It didn’t start well,” Rybakina said later, “but in the end I just found some energy.”
Rybakina saves match point in Miami to extend win streak to 10
She might want to bottle that verve and sell it during changeovers.
Here is why Rybakina is suddenly so frightening to play:
Serving at 4-5 in the second set, down a match point, she escaped with a deft, delicate forehand winner. She can kill it softly but, when it’s called for, is also capable of thunder and lightning. Rybakina was credited with 60 winners against Badosa. When added to the 40 she hit against Kalinskya, she’s achieved the century mark -- in two matches.
Meanwhile, Mertens has been her steady self, navigating through three matches, taking down two seeded players, No.8 Daria Kasatkina and No.29 Petra Martic. It’s Merten’s first fourth-round berth at a WTA 1000 this year.
Rybakina has won two of the three matches they’ve played.
Here's a look at the other seven Round of 16 matches, all to be played on a busy Middle Monday in Miami:
No.3 Jessica Pegula vs. No.20 Magda Linette (first meeting)
Pegula lives about 30 minutes north of Hard Rock Stadium -- which has its pluses and minuses. She’s sleeping in her own bed, commuting on a daily basis, driving herself. Pegula said it’s less stressful energy-wise.
Pegula, Linette set friendship aside to ready for first-time meeting
On the other hand …
“I have to stay on top of myself,” Pegula said. “I’m doing laundry at home. It’s just weird because I’m used to going to the courts, doing my laundry, picking it up. Then I am like, ‘Oh, shoot, I need to wash my match outfits. Like at home things pile up.’”
Her comfort level has been evident in a pair of straight-set victories against qualifier Katherine Sebov and Danielle Collins. She won the second-set tiebreak over Collins at love.
Pegula is now 8-3 at the Miami Open and is hoping to replicate (or improve) last year’s result, when she reached the semifinals before losing to eventual titlist Iga Swiatek.
At the age of 31, Linette is playing some of the best tennis of her career. She’s ranked a career-high of No.19, largely based on her surprising semifinal run at the Australian Open. Saturday the No.20 seed was a 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-4 winner versus No.14 Victoria Azarenka.
No.23 Zheng Qinwen vs. No.27 Anastasia Potapova (1-0)
Outside of Swiatek and Coco Gauff, these are the two youngest players in the Top 30, so we might be seeing a lot of this matchup going forward. Zheng is only 20 and Potapova turns 22 on Thursday.
Coming in, they’ve both pulled formidable upsets. Zheng defeated No.12 Liudmila Samsonova 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-3. Potapova came back to beat No.6 Coco Gauff 6-7 (8), 7-5, 6-2. Down a set and a break before mounting her comeback, Potapova scored her first Top 10 victory in a WTA 1000 event.
In their only previous match, the second round of last year’s US Open, Zheng hung on to win in two tiebreaks.
No.24 Jelena Ostapenko vs. No.25 Martina Trevisan (first meeting)
Look at those seedings -- it couldn’t be much closer.
Ostapenko was a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 third-round winner over No.13 Beatriz Haddad Maia, while Trevisan defeated Claire Liu 4-6, 7-5, 6-4.
By the numbers: Ostapenko maintains dominance of Haddad Maia
Trevisan helped Italy to the United Cup final back in January but has struggled since. Ostapenko is off to a 12-7 start this season.
No.2 Aryna Sabalenka vs. No.16 Barbora Krejcikova (3-1)
This is already the third time they’ve met this year.
Krejcikova won the Dubai quarterfinal in three sets, but Sabalenka was a three-set winner in the fourth round at Indian Wells. Overall, though, Sabalenka holds a 3-1 head-to-head edge.
On Sunday, Sabalenka was a 6-1, 6-2 winner (in 67 minutes) over No. 31 Marie Bouzkova, while Krejcikova defeated No.19 Madison Keys 7-6 (4), 6-3.
Sabalenka -- who has won in straight sets 16 times in 21 matches -- is now 19-2 for the season and Krejcikova is 15-5.
No.18 Ekaterina Alexandrova vs. Bianca Andreescu (first meeting)
Both players, looking to regain previous form, collected Top-10 upset wins on the way to the fourth round.
Alexandrova is coming off a 7-6 (8), 6-3 victory over No.9 seed Belinda Bencic, while Andreescu fashioned a three-set win over No.7 Maria Sakkari in the second round. Andreescu, with her 6-4, 6-4 third-round triumph over Sofia Kenin, has a chance to win four consecutive matches at an event -- for the first time since she made the final here in 2021.
“Coming back here I have amazing memories,” said Andreescu. “Hopefully I can continue the momentum.”
This was the 10th Top 10 win of Alexandrova’s career and the first time she’s won back-to-back matches since the Australian Open.
No.15 Petra Kvitova vs. Varvara Gracheva (first meeting)
For the third time in Miami, Kvitova defeated No.22 Donna Vekic 6-4, 7-6 (3). The 33-year-old from the Czech Republic is playing in her 99th WTA 1000 event.
Gracheva, the only qualifier left in the draw, has won her way into the main draw of the last four tournaments that required it – Linz, Merida, Indian Wells and Miami. She’s ranked No.54 and, including qualifying, has already won 21 matches this year.
Gracheva had a signature win over No.4 seed Ons Jabeur in the second round and followed that up with a 6-1, 6-2 winner over lucky loser Magdalena Frech.
Marketa Vondrousova vs. Sorana Cirstea (1-1)
These are the two lowest-ranked players left -- Cirstea is No.74 and Vondrousova two spots back – a tribute to their resilience. Cirstea took down the trending Karolina Muchova and Vondrousova defeated fellow Czech Karolina Pliskova.
The head-to-head is 1-all, with Vondrousova winning at the 2021 Australian Open and Cirstea prevailing last year in St. Petersburg.